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Jolie calls for reintegration of former refugees

Jolie calls for reintegration of former refugees

Mar 03, 2011 - 15:47

KABULinfo-icon (PANinfo-icon): Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood actress and goodwill ambassador for the UN’s refugee agency, has called for greater focus on the reintegration of Afghan refugees as she wrapped up her second visit to the country.

During her two-day trip, Jolie met internally-displaced people and returnees still struggling to reintegrate almost 10 years after coming back to Afghanistaninfo-icon from years of exile.

A statement from the UNHCR on Thursday said that more than 5.5 million Afghans -- making up 20 percent of the population -- had returned since 2002, mainly from Pakistaninfo-icon and Iran.

"It's clear travelling through the country that what needs to be done is a focused approach in places of return. We need to revisit the idea of what return is and the difference between just returning and reintegrating," Jolie said

The focus needed to shift to reintegration, and that meant not just putting up shelter but making sure there was water, job opportunities, a school for children and medical clinics, added Jolie, who last visited Afghanistan in 2008.

On Wednesday, she returned to meet families living in a dilapidated warehouse in Kabul that once served as a storage facility for the national bus company. The Tamir Mili Bus depot is now one of 30 UNHCR-identified sites in the Afghan capital, where refugees and IDPs can live while they eke out a living.

The goodwill ambassador caught up again with Khanum Gul in the small damp room she shares with her husband and eight children. A UNHCR plastic tarpaulin covered a hole in the front wall, providing some shelter from the wind and snow.

On Jolie's first visit in 2008, Gul had just given birth to her son Samir. "It was very distressing to see that, because of the poor conditions, Samir seems to be suffering some form of developmental delay due to malnutrition," she said.

Gul’s husband, Eshan, tries to earn a living as a daily labourer. He waits for hours every day but is rarely picked for work. The couple also support Khanum's ailing 70- year-old mother, Bi Bi Zamo Jan, who also met Jolie on her first visit.

"This old woman was so upset, because she feels like a burden. She watches her grandchildren go onto the streets every day to wash cars for a dollar a day so the family can eat. Often they earn nothing," the actress said.

"Everyone I have met on this visit has been very clear. The Afghan people don't want to become beggars. They want the opportunity to work for a living with dignity so they can provide for their families."

A day after her arrival on Monday evening, she travelled to the village of Qala Gadu, which lies north of Kabul on the Shomali Plain, the scene of fierce fighting during successive waves of conflict since the late 1970s.

Among the 2,500 families in the area, almost everyone is a returned refugee or was internally displaced before 2002. Jolie met a group of young girls who will study at a new primary school that is being built in the village with funding from the actress.

She also paid for a school in the remote returnee settlement of Tangi in eastern Nangarhar province. The girls in Qala Gadu currently study next to the local mosqueinfo-icon. The lack of a proper classroom means most girls cannot study beyond 4th grade.


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